STOP. BREATHE. START AGAIN.

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You are a photographer. You have the best gear you can afford. You have a hard drive full of great imagery. You post your photos on 500px, Flickr and God only knows where else. Your friends love your work. You and your photography are running at 100 miles per hour. You’ve done it!

But have you?

Have you ever asked yourself why you are doing this? What’s your goal? Who are you as a person and photographer? Are you a photographer because you are addicted to your expensive gear? Or maybe you just like sitting in front of a computer? What do you feel when you take an image? Does the image mean anything to you? What did you contribute to this enormous body of work?

Recently I noticed I am out of photographic breath. I picked up my camera, took another pretty photo, came home and felt nothing as if my photography train had hit the wall. It’s not that it hasn’t happened in the past.

STOP. BREATHE. START AGAIN.

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First, you become detached from your photography. You run after easy images, the ones that top the popular 500px ranking. It’s almost like eating junk food. You have an urge to push the button and a rushing feeling but as soon as you swallow the last bite, the pleasure disappears and discomfort sets in. You promise yourself you won’t eat this again. Then, after a while, you give up. After all, it’s fast and easy.

Then you notice you have lost your appetite. You have great scenery in front of you but you don’t reach for your camera. You feel detached and bored. After all, you have a hundreds images like this on your hard drive. You find every excuse not to take a photo. You just don’t want to SEE.

This has just happened to me and I am glad it did.

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For the last few weeks I‘ve hardly taken any photos. My X100S stayed at home. It’s not that I wasn’t thinking about photography. Quite the reverse!

I have spent days and weeks evaluating my photography and my way of seeing. Think of it as internal audit. You look at your work as an outsider but with your own artistic consciousness. Some images you took may be very popular but they no longer light your fire. It’s fine. Accept it.

Your internal storm drags you in many artistic directions – that’s fine too. Let it be. Street photography, fine art photography, landscape, and people – everything should be on the plate. STOP. BREATHE. START OVER.

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How do I emerge from such a transformative state? It takes time, sometimes weeks or months. You cannot force it to end.

However, once it ends you will notice significant changes. You will feel, think and see differently. You will pick up your camera and take the best imagery of your life. You become a new photographer and somehow much more engaged. Fast-food imagery no longer impresses you. You are looking for something special. You know that taking a great image requires much more than pressing the shutter button. Most importantly, your new direction has been set – you will start running again until… you hit another wall.  

That’s fine. You know that this is a normal and necessary part of being a photographer. From time to time you must just STOP. BREATHE. START AGAIN.

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If you find this article chaotic and confusing – that’s exactly what it is. The whole process of transformation and renewal is a messy and perplexing experience. And it should be. Zack Arias, an excellent photographer, made a great movie about this aspect of being a photographer. You can find it here.

Next time, I will share some fantastic imagery taken by our good friend Thomas Kampioni who has just returned from a trip to Spain. Are you ready to fight the windmills with Don Quixote?

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2014 © Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

12 thoughts on “STOP. BREATHE. START AGAIN.

  1. Pingback: Summary of 2014 and our favourite images of the year |

  2. I go through once a year or so and have come to accept it as part of the journey. When I stop looking at things over the long term and not the short I find these “gaps” or “moments” have always led to growth for me.

    Your work is excellent, inspirational even. From one Vancouver photographer to another kudos!

    Cheers,

    Ian

    http://www.ianmacdonaldphotography.com

  3. Olaf,

    So you too huh? I can relate to this and I also found relief from Zack’s blog and movie (the realisation everyone else, even successful photographers whom I respect, get this from time to time). The issue I’ve had for a long time now is too much reflection, and not enough opportunities to get out there and exercise (or is that “exorcise”) my creative urges. About 18 months ago I was involved in a horrid medical accident which nearly ended me and took 5 major operations to get me to where I am now (stuck at home mostly, still recovering). Long walks (which I LOVE) are still out of question, as is carrying heavy gear around. Still there are up sides to every situation (and it’s essential to find these for your sanity).

    One upside has been the requirement to re-evaluate, refine and reduce the quantity of “baggage” (in every sense) I have with me when trying to make images – a theme which drew me to your own blog and approach. Even before this cataclysmic event, my “dream” kit of high end Canon gear and L glass soon became a reality of something left at home all too often. Over the years I’ve lost count of the times I could kick myself for not having a decent camera with me and missed a great shot I knew I could of had. It was ill health that finally forced my hand and led to my Fuji X “epiphany”; rediscovering the joy of making images by previsualising shots in the EVF and having something small and light enough that I now take it everywhere I go. I also move at a much slower pace, which helpfully leads to greater attention on the world around me and spotting opportunities I might otherwise miss.

    The other upside has been time to re-evaluate my priorities and consider what images I want to make (why and how), setting myself projects and thinking more carefully about the end result well before I get the chance to shoot it. Whereas before, a busy life and family all too often meant just hoovering up shots on the off chance you saw something good in front of you – No waiting, revisiting places or planning ahead.

    Anyhow, enough of me rambling on. Guess my point is I too am “re-born” in a sense and am now bristling with ideas and enthusiasm. And yes … I need to get out more!

    I find your ideas and images refreshing and inspiring. Thank you so much

    Steve

    • Steve,

      Thank you very much for sharing your personal story. Similarly, I went through an ordeal a few years ago (kidney transplant), which had a tremendous impact on my life and my photography. I do believe that life experiences “tune” your senses – the sense of seeing among them.

      I wish you all the best,

      Olaf

      • Wow! That’s a huge life changer too. Sorry to hear that, but at the same time it also gives me strength to see how you’ve come out the other side and are now making the most of life and every day it brings you. Good for you. Looks like you live in a truly awe inspiring place, which nourishes the soul and helps you put life in perspective.

        Look forward to to seeing more from you.

        Steve

  4. I guess that’s a kind of overdose, which is quite understandable. That’s why it is so important to think more and more about the story rather than the photograph: it’s much more difficult to “hit the wall” while telling stories (and you have many very good ones on this blog).
    That’s what I regret on sites like 500px: the pictures are wonderful, but the stories are usually missing!
    So get a place ticket to Spain or Georgia and enjoy!
    Cheers

  5. This is such a poignant post, Olaf. For all of us. Perfect sense and perfect advice for the natural evolution that is inevitable for ANY would-be artist. Well said, indeed. It’s good to know we’re not alone. R.

  6. hei olaf,we are jus humans:-),barbaum (bruce)says the same on his book.,but remenbe your photographs means a lot for a lot of people like me,dont give up,do it for us

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